Mohamed “Mo” Bamba is the kind of player who gets honors and acclaim the way that some people get groceries. He shows up at an event, he dominates, he is honored.
Yet even a galactic star like Bamba can’t help but be excited by being officially named as a McDonald’s All-American, as the native New York big man learned Sunday night. The 6-foot-11, 200-plus pounder will be expected to make an impact, almost surely as a starter in the March 29 game in Chicago.
“It’s an unreal experience,” Bamba told USA TODAY High School sports from Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.), where he received his jersey as part of the McDonald’s All American Games Hometown Heroes presented by American Family Insurance. “Over the weekend I heard whispers of it, and I wasn’t as surprised as I pretended to be on national TV. But I’m still in awe. When I first learned what the McDonald’s All American Games were, I thought that might be out of reach.
“My parents were the first people I talked to after I learned. They were all very happy. This stands very tall compared to everything that I’ve done. My brothers and sisters set the bar very high in their achievements. I hope that this is the first of many accomplishments in my career, but this stands tall.”
Of course, part of the glory that comes from being part of the McDonald’s game is the company it puts a player in, both in terms of current and former stars. This year’s 24-player boys crop includes the best of the best, not to mention NBA stars like LeBron James and Chris Paul who lit up Chicago while starring in the game in years past.
Bamba called it “unreal” to think that he would be sharing the court with a future NBA player, no matter who it is. He hopes it’s him, though he also noted the unique relationship that he shares with many of this year’s fellow All Americans, having played with and against them numerous times on the AAU and Nike EYBL circuits.
“It’s unreal to know all these guys, too,” Bamba said. “(Sunday’s announcement was like) learning that you and your friends are all McDonald’s All-Americans. It’s unreal.”
Of course, there’s plenty of basketball to be played before late March, with Bamba targeting another state title in his final campaign to follow the first in school history in 2015-16.
He also continues to move forward with official visits, with a trip to Kentucky planned for this weekend and a final visit to Duke in February following his previous trips to Michigan and Texas, noting that the Wolverines and Longhorns had, “set the bar high,” during his trips there. His family has remained involved throughout his recruiting process, and Bamba said they have bonded as he continues to weigh his decision, though he admitted some openly campaigned for him to attend Harvard before he eliminated the Crimson from his list of finalists.
Throughout it all, Bamba continues to focus inward, on the things that have made him different and helped him reach the McDonald’s All American Game when, as he mentioned, he once saw it a a bridge too far.
“I just want people to know that I love winning and basketball,” Bamba said. “If you watched every guy in my class in my position, I think most really do love basketball, but some don’t really love it. If you look at the NBA’s slogan, it’s ‘I love this game.’ That has to be there to move on to the next level.”